A/N: Well here it is, the last chapter. I can't tell you how much I've appreciated everyone's reviews and support. This fic was angsty and hard but I think we all enjoyed it in the end. Thanks again for everyone who read and reviewed! Enjoy! - pj
"You think I'm crazy, don't you?"
Gibbs glanced over at Abby, it was the first she'd spoken all morning, and shifted in his seat, the small sedan they'd rented did not exactly stand up to the standard set by his Challenger or the NCIS fleet vehicles.
"I wouldn't say 'crazy', Abbs. Eccentric sometimes. A little off-kilter maybe. Definitely unique. But not crazy."
There was a pause and a rustle of clothing as Abby turned away from the window and stared to Gibbs, but his straight face didn't falter and he continued to look out at the road ahead.
"Leroy Jethro Gibbs...did you just make a funny?" She quirked her right eyebrow, slipping into their usual banter almost without thinking.
"Me? Nah. I don't have a sense of humor I am aware of," Gibbs replied, the corners of his mouth tilting upward.
Abby responded with a roll of her eyes and for a moment the silence that lingered between them was comfortable and light.
Slowly, though, she turned back to the window and Gibbs could almost see the melancholy fall back over her like a thick cloak.
"No, I mean for telling Gloria. Her mind is like Swiss cheese most of the time anyway. It's crazy of me to want to tell a sick woman her only son is dead, don't you think?"
Gibbs reached for the cup holder on the console between them to retrieve his coffee and took a sip before responding.
"I think you have a good reason for wanting to."
Abby nodded vigorously. Her pigtails were back, but parted low, tied off just behind her ears on each side.
"I do," she paused, "Gloria and Dan loved Bobby. I mean loved him…loved him like they never loved me," she shook her head. It wasn't said with bitterness or jealously, merely an uncensored truth between friends. Gibbs knew there had been hostility between the siblings growing up, but any of those negative feelings had been washed away long ago. "Not in the same way."
"Because he was deaf," Gibbs supplied, already knowing the answer.
Again, Abby nodded. She still wasn't looking at him but that didn't mean he wasn't aware of the tears gathering in her eyes, "he understood their world in a way I never could. A way I never wanted to."
She took a deep breath and pulled one black sleeve down over her hand so she could use it to dab at her eyes.
"I have to tell her, Gibbs," she told him vehemently, as if arguing a point, "she deserves to know. Bobby was her little boy…and if it were me, I would want to know."
"You okay?" Gibbs asked quietly, his somber tone matching the mood of the small, warmly decorated nursing home.
Abby didn't immediately respond. He laid his hand at her back and she jumped, whipping her head around to look at him. She swallowed a few times upon reading the question in his eyes then looked away, refusing to answer. She was both unable and unwilling to lie to his face.
"She in her room?" Abby's asked, her voice almost too low to hear.
Gibbs studied her closely, his piercing blue eyes roaming her face before he answered. He knew his Abby was strong, but he also knew that right now she was balancing precariously on the edge of her waning control. Had been for the past three days, and he was determined to be there when she finally fell.
"No. She's in the rec room."
Abby nodded, but continued staring blankly at the wide wooden doors that led into the residence.
"Did they tell her?"
"Nope," Gibbs shook his head, "but they've got her dressed, ready to go at four."
She nodded again and, after a few more moments, during which Gibbs watched her face cycle through anxious, uncertain, determined and overwhelmed several times, she started toward the doors. He followed a few paces behind, passing room after identical room, each occupied by someone who slept in a bed or a wheelchair, or who stared blankly at the wall. He got the distinct impression they were all waiting for something.
When they got to another set of double wooden doors, this set standing open, Abby stopped abruptly. There were windows on all three walls, bathing the room in sunlight and it was filled with mostly empty tables, as well as a few rocking chairs and a piano in the corner. Scattered among these were some of the residents who sipped coffee or chatted with visitors, the woman dressed in pearls and blouses that had surely been in fashion at some point in the past, and then men donned button up shirts and neat slacks. Also hovering around the room as well were a few of the staff who milled about gathering plates and handing out napkins.
"Gibbs," Abby said, her eyes locked onto her mother, who sat on the far side of the room in a chair next to the window, staring at the courtyard outside. He'd met Gloria several years before, a friend of his ex-wife's, but as he watched her from across the room, he was struck by how much that handful of years since they'd last met had aged her. He could see the resignation of her eyes, exhausted from spending so many years fighting to retain a mind, a memory, that was failing her.
"I need to, um…"
"I'll be here," he responded, not needing her to finish. Abby nodded mutely. She hesitated and then, tilting her chin up slightly, she strode across the room to kneel in front of her mother's chair.
Gloria? Abby furrowed her brows, Mom it's me, Abby. You're daughter. Do you recognize me?
Gibbs tilted his head when the older woman reached out to stroke Abby's cheek, but no spark of recognition was in her eyes. Her dark hair was pinned up neatly to the top of her hair and she was wore her best 'Sunday' dress, the one he bet she always wore on visitor's day.
Mom, I have to tell you something important, Abby took a deep breath and shifted on her knees. Gibbs could see her fighting to maintain control, something very important about Bobby.
Gloria immediately smiled at the sight of her son's name.
Bobby comes to visit me every Sunday. Is he here?
With her chin trembling and her eyes welling up with tears before she had a chance to forbid them, she shook her head.
No, he's not coming today. Bobby's not going to be able to come see you anymore, Mom.
Why not? He comes every Sunday. Such a good boy, my Bobby. I have a daughter too, you know. She doesn't come very often. She lives far away.
A sob broke from Abby's through and she covered her mouth, letting her head fall to her chest with her squeezed shut. Her shoulders shook and Gibbs took a step forward, but stopped when he saw the older woman reach out to her.
Abby gasped and looked up when she felt a touch on her shoulder. Her mother's face was both inquisitive and distressed.
It's alright, I'm sure Bobby will be here. He always comes on Sunday.
Abby shook her head again and held her mother's hands for a few moments before reluctantly releasing them to sign.
Bobby's gone, Mom. Dead. I'm sorry.
Gloria's face shifted from distraught to confused.
Abby nodded, Gone Mom. Like Daddy. Like your husband, Dan. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. You're…never going to see them again.
Gloria's face had gone blank and Abby watched closely, almost hopefully, to see if she'd understood.
Mom do you…
She was cut off by the swift, sound smack her mother delivered to her left cheek. Her eyes grew painfully wide and her mouth dropped open as she stared up at the other woman in shock.
Bobby! Gloria signed emphatically and opened her mouth to speak and only succeeded in delivering a few indecipherable sounds, I want Bobby. Not you. You get out of here! You leave!
Abby stood up, still in shock, as a few nurses brushed past her, attempting to calm the agitated and angry woman. She fought them, wishing to continue signing at Abby. When they attempted to keep her from lobbing a ceramic mug at the young woman she let out a guttural scream that made Abby jump, and she gasped, tears suddenly pouring down her cheeks. She turned and ran away from the nurses, past the tables and Gibbs only saw a blur of black as she flew past him out the door.
"Abby!" Gibbs shouted, but she made no indication of hearing him.
He found himself running full speed down the hallway after her, dodging nurses with food trays and patients in wheelchairs as he did so. Abby shot through the lobby and out the front doors leaving the receptionist to stare after her in curiosity. She finally slowed down when she got outside and propped herself up against the wall as her control finally abandoned her and the sobs took their place.
It wasn't the pretty sort of crying that was always in the movies, where the actresses hair never gets messed and there's always a tissue handy. But the deep, dark, heart wrenching, soul crushing sobs. Tears that flowed down her cheeks and into her mouth. Stung her eyes and blurred her vision. The kind that stop the world. That stop life, so that she couldn't find the air to breath or the strength to stand and she sank down into the cool, soft grass, scraping her skin against the rough bricks as she did so.
She felt lost and out of control and her body shook with fear that this was perhaps the end of the world, the end of everything.
Then two strong, steady hands wrapped around her, pulling her to a warm, hard surface. The smell of sawdust and old spice hit her and everything came flashing back.
"It's not fair Gibbs!" her shout was muffled by his shirt and his arms tightened around her. It almost felt safe.
"I know, Abbs."
She continued as if she hadn't heard him.
"Bobby shouldn't be dead. I shouldn't be going to his funeral today," she hit his arm and chest weakly with trembling fists to emphasize her words and he held her to him with one hand on the back of her head, "he should be coming to visit her today."
Gibbs didn't speak. Knew it was not his moment to do so. So instead he let her rant and vent her anger and grief, using him as a sounding board and a punching bag.
"When Mom came here, Uncle Bill and Aunt Eileen were all we had left. They were supposed to take care of him, Gibbs. When he started to drink I just knew something like this would happen. It should be him in that coffin!"
Abby was hardly coherent but Gibbs noted every word, his heart twisting at the guilt and remorse of her tone.
"I told him to stop, begged him to. He promised he would. And instead he got into that car with my baby brother next to him. He had to know he was drunk. Why didn't he stop Gibbs? Why didn't he think? He killed him!" She let her head fall back onto his shoulder as the sobs reclaimed her broken voice.
"He killed Bobby."
When Gibbs brought Abby back to the hotel after half an hour of consoling and calming her on the nursing home front lawn she dropped onto her bed, asleep before her cheek hit the pillow.
He watched over her for nearly an hour, sitting beside her on the bed, reading McGee's new book while stroking her head every now and then when her face would screw up with a frown.
After a while though, he grew restless and decided to go on a coffee run and pick up some food for Abby when she woke.
He knew the young scientist to be an extremely light sleeper and expected her to be awake and channel surfing when he returned. He was only slightly concerned to see she wasn't.
Still, he didn't think she'd gotten any rest in the past three days and decided to let her sleep until the last possible moment.
"Abbs," Gibbs said softly, sitting on the edge of the bed and shaking her shoulder.
Abby's eyes flew open and Gibbs could see the ghosts of fitful sleep reflected in the green pools before she blinked them away.
"Gibbs?" she frowned at him and then at the clock, "how long did I sleep?"
He shook his head, deeming the answer unimportant, and brushed her hair off her forehead affectionately.
"A while," then he moved to stand, patting her arm as he did so, "c'mon. You need to eat and get dressed before we leave."
Gibbs was further unnerved when Abby proceeded to go through the entire 45 minutes it took her to pick at her food, tie up her hair in wrapped pigtails and put on a black dress and speak less than three words. While on any other day the silence would have been a welcome addition to his Unit in the Squad Room, today it was unwanted.
She wasn't Abby if she was quiet.
The cemetery was small and sprinkled throughout with weeping willows and blossoming dogwoods. It was at the peak of serenity on a Sunday afternoon, respectfully silent as it accepted another resident who'd left the world too soon. It was always too soon.
Gibbs stood by Abby's side during the funeral, offering his silent, unwavering support to her freely. Abby hadn't spoken since they left, forgoing even their brief car conversation for silence on the way to the cemetery and she'd been staring at the casket since the moment the funeral began. The priest, who'd hugged Abby before in a way that told Gibbs he'd known her family a long time, was still delivering his discourse when movement caught Gibbs' eye.
Coming up the slight hill to the procession was a couple. A man and woman that Gibbs didn't need to be introduced to in order to recognize them.
He glanced at Abby and, seeing that she was unaware of his movement, he silently slipped from the rather large gathering of people unnoticed, and intercepted the couple before they were even within earshot of the Priest's sermon.
The woman, a brunette with green eyes who wore a simple black dress with flats dropped her eyes from Gibbs' to the ground as he approached. The man was slightly shorter than his wife and balding. He wore a suit and black tie, a blue sling on his right arm and a bandage on his forehead.
"Uncle Bill, I presume," Gibbs said, coming to a stop in front of the pair.
The man narrowed his eyes.
"Do I know you?"
"Nope," Gibbs shook his head and then pointed toward the cars behind them, "but I know you're going to leave now."
Bill frowned and glanced, first at Gibbs, and then at the people gathered for the funeral. The time had come for close friends and family to step forward and lay roses on the coffin.
"Look, I don't know who you think you are but we've got a right to be at our nephew's funeral."
Gibbs' eyes hardened and he dropped his hand, taking a menacing step forward. His voice fell a few notches so that even the woman standing beside them had to strain to hear him.
"No, you don't. You forfeited that right when you got behind the wheel of a car, drunk, and allowed a minor to get in beside you."
Bill blinked at Gibbs, his face draining of color.
"Your niece asked you not to come, but I took a precautionary measure, just in case you decided to show up anyway," his eyes flicked over the man's shoulder and Bill turned in time to see an unmarked police car pull up beside his sedan and two Uniforms get out and look over in their direction.
Bill turned back and Gibbs narrowed his eyes.
"Give your nephew the respect he deserves by turning yourself in without making a scene," Gibbs said quietly, though the dark look in his eyes plainly stated that, if Bill did decide to make a scene, Gibbs was more than capable of handling that as well.
There was silence for a few moments during which the injured man's resolve weakened and his shoulders slumped. He threw one last glance past Gibb's at the funeral and his eyes landed on a pale face in the crowd of black.
He sighed, "tell Abby, I'm sorry," then he turned and walked back down the hill toward the LEOs. The woman, Aunt Eileen, lingered a moment longer, staring silently at the figure at the top of the hill, remorse and regret plastered across her features, before turning to follow her husband.
Gibbs waited until Bill had gotten into the squad car and been driven off before facing Abby. She was almost alone on the hill now, the rest of the mourners had left for the wake. Neither moved for several moments and Gibbs steeled himself for Abby's wrath. He wasn't sure if he'd stepped over a line, but if he had, he was prepared to deal with the consequences, but he wasn't going to take what he'd done back.
Abby's eyes locked with Gibbs and she lifted one hand to her chin, her fingertips touching it and then falling away.
Gibbs gave a slight nod and then jerked his head for her to come down. She did, and they turned to follow the upbeat jazz music that floated toward them on the gentle afternoon breeze.
Abby didn't come home often. At least, not to her parent's home specifically. She came back for Mardi Gras every year but usually stayed in a hotel or with her Aunt and Uncle and Bobby.
The house she'd grown up in, a classic southern style estate her father had inherited, was too big and empty for her to stay in all by herself. Too filled with memories. But sometimes, when she was back visiting, she would come here. She would look at the house, look at all the windows and stand under the tree by the pond. She never went inside, but when she was feeling especially nostalgic she would go around back and sit on the big white porch swing and watch the ducks on the water and daydream.
So when the crowded atmosphere and too many 'I'm sorry's began to get the best of her inside, it was on that same porch swing where she sought refuge.
"You found me," she didn't look over as Gibbs exited the back door, the creaky hinges ruining the effect of his silent footfalls.
"Mm-hm," he nodded, handing her a mug of coffee and setting down beside her.
She raised the mug to her lips and sipped carefully, "I love this swing."
Gibbs 'ah'ed at the end of his sip and looked around. From his seat he had a perfect view of the tree and pond, as well as the meadow that stretched out beyond it and a treeline in the distance.
"I can see why."
Abby nodded and took another careful sip, the breeze cooling the hot liquid for her.
"Any word from DC? Any new cases?"
Gibbs stiffened for a moment and then relaxed, "nope."
Abby narrowed her eyes at him, "there is isn't there? The guys are working a new case and there's some temp in my lab using my babies," she accused.
Gibbs smiled at her, "I'm sure they're all fine, Abbs."
Abby didn't share Gibb's certainty but the matter drop. Idly she found herself wishing for the comfort of her lab and hoped they'd gotten Dr. Vargas to temp. He at least knew to put things back in her cabinets exactly as he found them, and he did alright with Major Mass Spec's temper tantrums most of the time as well.
She sighed deeply and Gibbs lifted his arm, Abby immediately snuggled into his side.
He turned his head so his lips were resting on her hair, "yeah?"
"Why did Bobby get in that car?"
He inhaled sharply and shifted slightly before. He slowly turned his head to plant a kiss on her hair and began stroking the back of her head absently, staring out over the water as he searched for an adequate way to answer her.
"I don't know, honey," he whispered, "but he didn't deserve what he got."
Abby shook her head, still tucked safely under Gibbs chin, and distracted herself from tears by picking microscopic lint off his lapel.
"I miss the others," she said after a moment, "Tony, McGee, Ziva, Ducky. I wonder what they're doing right now."
Gibbs tensed slightly and Abby pulled away from him.
He shrugged, "what what?"
"Gibbs you better-"
"Holy crap, somebody pinch me. I've teleported to 1955 Greenbow, Alabama."
Abby's eyes flew up to the back door and watched as a very familiar face, which was pressed up against the screen, pulled back and opened the door to walk out.
"Tony!" She launched herself from the swing and into the man's arms. Tony grinned and caught her effortlessly, wrapping her in a hug.
"Hey Abbs," he set her back on her feet and Abby opened her mouth to speak, only to be interrupted by a voice behind him.
"Do step aside Anthony and let an old man have a turn."
Abby gasped and pulled away from Tony to look behind him.
Her grin brightened ten fold.
"Ducky! Ziva, Mcgee! You're all here," she threw herself into each of their arms in turn, "I didn't know you were coming."
"Well, that was the Boss' idea, he didn't want to get your hopes up in case we couldn't make it." Tony informed her helpfully.
Abby turned a quick glare at Gibbs and punched him in the shoulder.
"Not nice Gibbs."
He humored her with an apologetic look.
"We're sorry we couldn't be here earlier Abby, we had a case to finish," McGee said and was a little stunned to see Abby whirl around and land another solid punch on Gibbs' shoulder.
"Hey, Abby!" Gibbs cried indignantly.
"You said there was no case," she informed him, not the least bit remorseful, and turned back around, grinning brightly at her teammates.
Tony took a step forward and touched her cheek, "how you doin?", he asked quietly, his tone uncharacteristically serious.
Abby gave him a small smile and flashed it quickly at the others, who each wore eager expressions telling of a weekend's worth of worrying about their favorite Forensic Scientist.
She shrugged, "it'll get better. It always does."
They all nodded in understanding and an awkward silence ensued, which Ziva took the liberty of breaking.
"This is, um…for you," she held out a stainless steel canister.
"Um, wow. Thanks Ziva. A thermos," she gave her friend a confused smile.
Ziva rolled her eyes, "not the container, Abby. What's inside."
Abby's eyes narrowed and she untwisted the cap, immediately recognizing the smell of the beverage inside.
"Caf-Pow!" She grinned and wrapped a stunned Ziva in another hug, "thank you Ziva. They don't have that here."
Ziva nodded her head once, "yes. We thought you might be going through overhaul."
"Withdrawal, Zeevah," Tony corrected, "Ow!" He threw a wounded look at Abby who was glaring at him.
"You wanna correct somebody, correct yourself. It's Louisiana, not Alabama, there's a big difference."
Tony raised his eyebrows, "oh c'mon. You got to admit this place looks a lot like it."
Abby rolled her eyes and moved back to take her seat beside Gibbs and McGee sat on the other side of her with Ziva and Tony taking their places leaning against the banister and Ducky pulled up a chair to sit beside them.
They all waited while Abby took several sips from her thermos. She 'ah'ed in a very Gibbs-like 'manner and grinned.
They all smiled at her reaction and Tony became aware of Gibbs gaze on his skin.
"What?" He asked, as innocently as possible, wondering if there was any way his boss could know he'd used his computer while he was gone. He had been thousands of miles away afterall...
Everyone turned to Gibbs and Tony to see the older man pinning the younger with a thoughtful, almost puzzled look.
Tony's face split with a relieved grin and Abby almost choked on her Caf-Pow!.
"Alabama. Gibbs, Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks?" She tried.
"Yeah, you know Boss, 'Momma always said life was like a box of chocolates'," McGee said, raising his eyebrows.
"It's a rather interesting commentary on several aspects of American society," Ducky added, "and a hell of a movie as well."
Gibbs' expression remained blank.
"Run Forrest, Run!" Ziva said in her best 'distraught Jenny' voice. Everyone turned to look at her and she shrugged, "what? We have movies in Israel."
Gibbs smiled and shook his head.
"You all need lives," he sipped his coffee to hide his grin. The voices of Tony, Ziva, McGee, Abby and Ducky all overlapped one another as they each uniquely but equally loudly protested. In amongst the snorting and eye rolling, arguments of 'pot calling kettle black' and 'it's a classic' could be heard.
Gibbs called on all his reserves of training to keep a straight face and take it like a Marine.
The quiet was gone and, for now, he was glad.
They weren't his team if they were quiet.